I received this tea as a 3g sample with my recent purchase from “House of Tea“.
Although that might not sound like much, it’s the perfect amount to steep gong-fu / Asian style in a 100ml capacity gaiwan.
This, incidentally, is an unglazed clay gaiwan, which has only ever been used with Oolongs. Unglazed clay teaware will absorb flavours from the teas steeped in it over time, and so to avoid potentially harsh flavour clashes, it’s generally considered best to use unglazed clay teaware with one particular class of tea alone.
Right, back to the tea. Alishan is a High Mountain Oolong – this particular tea, which is of the Chin Shin (Qing Xin) cultivar, was grown at an elevation of 1300 metres.
As with all teas grown at high altitude, this means two things for the tea drinker – higher quality and also higher prices.
The lower temperatures in the mist covered mountains make for a slower growing plant, allowing the bush time to accumulate nutrients, which for us means more taste. That same elevation and mountainous terrain also equate to a significantly lower yield than from a lowland plantation, which naturally enough impacts the price. This tea, for example, normally retails for 179 Swedish Crowns (£15.56 GB, $21.96 US, or €19.27) for 70g.
This particular tea is also a winter pluck, from 2015. It’s not everywhere in the tea world where the climate allows a winter pluck to take place, but Taiwan’s does. The winter plucks are renowned for their concentration of flavour, a result of the plants entering a period of dormancy to rest and accumulate nutrients and energy prior to their frenetic burst of activity in the spring.
The water I used to steep the tea was just off the boil. After the usual initial rinsing, I made the first steeping 20 seconds, and then added a further 5 seconds to each subsequent steeping.
The resulting liquor was lightly coloured, and the taste was quite different, almost like a Longjing with elements of Oolong-esque roasted notes layered on top.
There was another flavour coming through, something familiar that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It wasn’t until the fourth steeping that I nailed it – Lebkuchen! The sweet, gingery, almost savoury flavour was, for me at least, strongly reminiscent of German Lebkuchen!
I got about 7 or 8 steeping out of the tea, and from the first infusion to the last there was not even the slightest trace of astringency.
This was also a remarkably “clean” tea – the tea strainer never needed rinsing off once during the whole of the session, and the bottom of the tea pitcher and tea cup were sediment free, which somehow complemented the feel of the tea as a light and refreshing one.
Although it has to be said that I normally prefer darker Oolongs from the mainland, I could certainly grow to like teas like Alishan.
Definitely one for the “drink again” list – so good I’m even prepared to pay for it next time!